Grief Resulting from Love, or Why I’ll Always Have a Dog

When I think about my childhood, I can’t really remember ever not having a dog. They were part of the family.

When the guy I dated after college decided to move to Atlanta he asked if I wanted to move with him. My mom recommended that I “get a commitment” first. Of course, I knew what she meant, but the commitment I got was an agreement that he would get me a dog once we were settled in. In truth, that was a more important commitment than a promise to get married.

That was 10 years ago.

Kenny was a Boxer-Rottweiler mix. His file at the Humane Society indicated that he had been there for several months. Looking back on it, I think he must have been waiting for us. I picked Kenny up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The next day, we drove 6 hours with him in the car to visit family. We had no idea what to expect. He was a large mutt we didn’t know and who didn’t know us. But Kenny was a charmer. Everyone who met him fell instantly in love.

Flash Forward to 2015. My husband (the same boyfriend who had gotten me Kenny) and I found out I was pregnant. Once we knew, we realized that Kenny must have known long before us. He had started sitting between my legs anywhere I went. He was constantly in sight of me, even when I showered. We never had concerns that Kenny would be anything other than wonderful with the baby. We were adding to our family. Even when others seemed worried that he might not be gentle or patient enough, we didn’t.

While I was in the hospital recovering from my c-section, my husband drove 45 minutes each way multiple times a day to check on Kenny. Each time he left, he took a different item our new baby had been wearing or slept on so Kenny could get used to her smell and be prepared for her.

For 2 years, Kenny was the perfect big brother. He sat with his head cradled on T’s rocker as she slept. He watched her tirelessly as she crawled around the house and yard. Kenny never growled or barked or snarled when T poked his eyes or pulled his ears or tried to grab the little nub he had instead of a tail. He just licked her. He let her climb all over him, despite having spondylosis and arthritis. One of T’s first words was “dog” and her first real sentence was “Kenny eat snack”, followed by her feeding him a bag of fruit snacks. People were frequently amazed to see this 65-pound dog allowing a tutu-wearing toddler who could barely walk on her own to carry his leash and guide him.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to Kenny. Over the weekend, he started coughing a lot and I found some lumps on his neck. T went with me to the vet. We were told he had lymphoma. T was with me as the vet injected the medicine into Kenny’s catheter that allowed him to drift into peace. She petted him with me and gave him kisses and told him she loved him. After several minutes, I prompted her to tell Kenny goodbye. She said “goodbye, Kenny” and walked toward the door. But when I opened the door so we could leave, T was suddenly frantic that Kenny wasn’t coming with us. “Walk Kenny! Kenny come on! Kenny walk Kenny!” I tried to hug her and find the magic words to use to calm down my panicky baby, but on the inside, I felt exactly the same way.

In the end, I just gathered her up and tried to distract her with the fish tank in the lobby of the vet’s office while I calmed myself enough to feel comfortable driving us home.

There were a few times yesterday that T wandered around the house looking for Kenny. I reminded her that we had told Kenny goodbye and tried to fight back tears, not always successfully.

Today has been better. I printed out my favorite picture of T and Kenny together for her to have in her bedroom. It still hurts to think that my sweet baby dog had to leave us. I have tried to focus on how much love he gave all of us. Because of him, we are grieving now, but only because we loved him so much. And because he gave us so many reasons to love him, I know that one day we will have another dog. Tesla will always have pictures of Kenny to help her remember him, but more than that, she will always carry the love Kenny gave her in her heart and in her memories.